"Gente bdrbara": Indigenous Rebellion, Resistance and
Persistence in Colonial Cuba, c. 1500-1800
Jason M. Yaremko
"Spanish colonization destroyed the Indians of Cuba, though perhaps not as soon as has
come to be accepted." 1 So asserted Cuban scholar Felipe Pichardo Moya in his 1945
study Caverna, costa y meseta: interpretaciones de arqueologia indocubana. That same
year, in an address to the Cuban Academy of History, Pichardo took his colleagues to
task for their complicity in perpetuating the widespread belief that the indigenous peoples
of Cuba were effectively exterminated in the century after the conquest of the island.
Half a century later, this understanding of Cuba's colonial history continues to dominate
European, North American, and Cuban historiography. Recently, for example, scholars L.
Antonio Curet and Massimo Livi-Bacci both agreed that, "a few decades after
Columbus's landfall," the Tamos of the Greater Antilles "completed their course to
extinction." At the same time, this history, on closer examination, had significant gaps
that raised a number of questions. 
Compared to the rich history of European colonialism and aboriginal culture and
influence in the American continents, however, beyond the first several decades of
colonization, this question remains understudied if not neglected in the Caribbean, and
has only recently been seriously addressed-though, arguably, to a greater extent by
archaeologists and anthropologists than by historians. What follows is an attempt at an
historical narrative, an overview, based on preliminary research in the relatively scarce
secondary sources available and the relevant primary sources, toward the beginnings of a
better understanding of the history of Cuba's indigenous peoples, the nature and
implications of Spanish colonialism in Cuba, and the European-indigenous relationship in
the largest island in the Caribbean. As this essay will argue, to the extent that indigenous
peoples in Cuba survived and persisted for a period well beyond the first century of the
conquest in Cuba, they did so through a combination of violent and more subtle forms of
resistance that were, in turn, facilitated by additional factors of varying influence,
including Amerindian and Spanish colonial migration patterns, and Spanish imperial
laws, policies and administration. This paper will focus on these and on some of the
Amerindian communities and individuals who persisted in Cuba through active
indigenous resistance in forms that included fight, flight and negotiated acculturation,
including (though beyond the scope of this introductory summary) marriage, that is,
mestizaje. Our story begins, however, as it should: with the people who were there long
before the Europeans. 
Of the three major cultural communities that predominated in the Caribbean at the end of
the fifteenth century-the Guanahuatebey; the Taino (classic, western); and the Carib, the
namesake of the sea and the region-the Taino, the first settlers, and the first indigenous
group encountered by Columbus in the New World, were the largest population and
would become the best known of Cuba's aboriginal people. Descended from the larger
Arahuacan cultural and linguistic family of South America, they were, as even Columbus
conceded, substantial navigators and seafarers, and their migrations have been tracked in
the Antilles and throughout the Caribbean, from the Orinoco River in Venezuela as far as
the Bahamas. 4 The Taino reached their highest level of development on Hispaniola
(present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic), where they developed more highly-
organized, sedentary agricultural communities territorially organized into cacicazgos or
"chiefdoms, 5 and it was from here that they moved to eastern Cuba at least as early as the
third century AD, a movement that would become intensified with Spanish conquest and
colonization of Hispaniola. 6 
The isolated development of the indigenous Cuban population effectively ended in 1492,
the year of the beginning of indigenous encounters with Europeans. As is by now
generally established, Columbus and his expedition made their first landfall upon having
reached the Bahamian Archipelago on October 12, 1492, specifically, the island that the
(Lucayan) Taino called Guanahani and which the navigator renamed San Salvador. Using
a number of Taino first encountered in the Bahamas as guides, Columbus was then
directed to Cuba, where he arrived on October 28, 1492. Having gone ashore at Bariay,
near the present town of Gibara, Columbus sent emissaries inland to investigate reports
by his indigenous guides that the local cacique (leader) possessed objects of gold. 
By 1508, when Cuba was circumnavigated and the Spaniards realized that it was an
island and not part of a continent as Columbus had believed, the expansion of Spanish
colonization in Hispaniola had reached a point where the competition for shrinking
resources had intensified. As well, the decline of the laboring indigenous population
there through conquest, continued "pacification" campaigns, disease and harsh working
conditions, and abuse by settlers determined to raise production and profits under the
encomienda labor system had considerably reduced the labor force. Finally, the rumors of
gold elsewhere persisted. Attention shifted back onto Cuba. 
In 1511, Governor Diego Velazquez began the conquest of Cuba in the mountainous,
rugged eastern region of the island. The first European settlement in Cuba was founded
on the north coast of the easternmost point of the island, in the middle of an Indian
settlement, Baracoa; Velazquez renamed it Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion de Baracoa. In
November 1513, the second European settlement was established in another indigenous
community, Bayamo, renamed San Salvador de Bayamo. During the early stage of
colonization, seven settlements, including Trinidad and Havana, were established. After
the founding of a third center in Santiago de Cuba (1515), Cuba was considered
"conquered," and for many years Santiago, Baracoa and Bayamo were the only European
settlements in eastern Cuba. 9 At the same time, each of these was also a center of
jurisdiction whose borders had not been precisely determined and that included large
areas that remained unsettled. The sites chosen by the Spaniards had much to do, of
course, with strategic considerations and economic interests. A number of these towns
were expected to play an important supportive role in Spanish expansion into Central and
South America. 10 Also, gold deposits and the proximity of Indian populations were key
With Santiago de Cuba established as the (initial) center of administration (replaced by
the eighteenth century by a more accessible Havana), the Spaniards proceeded to extract
from land and labor in repetition of the colonial experience back on Hispaniola. The early
settlements flourished as gold deposits were located in the stream systems of the central
highland ranges and in the Sierra Maestra mountains. As LA. Wright observed, "it was
with every intention to obtain control and service of natives under the repartimiento
[labor draft] system in order to use them to gather gold, that the Spanish swarmed into
Cuba in 1512-1513, almost emptying Hispaniola, just as later they swarmed over Cuba
and on, into Mexico and into Peru, leaving this island in its turn almost depopulated of
Yet the conquistadors also distributed land and indigenous laborers among themselves. In
many cases they appropriated the fields and produce previously cultivated by the Indians
for their own sustenance. While colonists appropriated and adopted the indigenous food
sources of the island, particularly yucca, boniato, and maize, they also introduced
European staples like wheat, rice, bananas and sugar cane. Whether production for
domestic consumption or for export, whether in agriculture, livestock raising or mining,
by 1515, Cuba's young colonial economy was thriving. As navigator Gonzalo Fernandez
de Oviedo then observed, "much gold was had, because the island is rich in mines, and
livestock from La Espanola thrived as did all the plants and herbs taken over from here
and from Spain. ... In fine, the island of Cuba came to be very prosperous and well
populated with Christians and full of Indians, and Diego Velazquez [became] very rich.
Cuba eventually replaced Hispaniola as Castile's precious Antillean pearl. The principle
source of labor and the foundation of this economy, like that in Hispaniola, was the
Indian. By 1519, with the establishment of the first Spanish settlements, the early
colonization of Cuba had been completed, including the first stage of relations with the
original inhabitants of the island. 
As has been exhaustively documented, however, the prospects for the sustenance of the
indigenous population in early colonial Cuba appeared bleak. Many died in the war to
turn back the Spanish invaders (more on this below). Many also died from the abuse,
overwork, and generally harsh working conditions suffered under colonists or
encomenderos, representative of the considerable gap between the theory and brutal
practice of the encomienda. Indigenous peoples were devastated as much by
malnutrition as by maltreatment. Within an extremely short period of time after the
Spanish conquest, Indian peoples simultaneously lost control over their labor and the
cultivation of their land. Imperial Spain's introduction of European agriculture violently
displaced Indian farming. Spanish colonists "let loose onto the land vast droves of
livestock." Faced with few New World predators and free of Old World diseases, the
animals flourished and multiplied massively, grazing without restriction on both the
natural vegetation and the unfenced cultivated fields on which the Indians depended for
their sustenance. 14 
The consequences for the Taino were catastrophic. Indigenous agriculture declined
precipitously as Indian farmers struggled with the widespread destruction of their crops
by large unrestrained herds of beasts-cattle, goats, horses, pigs and sheep-variously
grazing and trampling indigenous produce under hoof. Famine plagued Indian peoples as
food supplies deteriorated. Families were devastated, infant mortality rates and
infanticide increased, and fertility rates dropped. Suicide became a common form of
indigenous protest, in some cases reportedly involving whole villages. 15 
Understandably, under such conditions, indigenous susceptibility to disease epidemics
that passed through Cuba during this period increased considerably. Smallpox, measles,
typhoid and dysentery destroyed a number of Indian communities. Estimates of
indigenous mortality from epidemics like that in 1519 and later range from 60 to 90
percent. 16 Cuba's indigenous population, estimated at about 112, 000 (to 300,000) on the
eve of Spanish conquest, is believed to have declined to less than 10, 000 by the early
1530s. 17 To the present day, however, while scholars of Latin America may agree that
indigenous population decline was greatest in Cuba and the Caribbean, estimates of the
decline and surviving population continue to be greatly debated, particularly since more
critical analyses have been made of colonial documentary records. Some estimates have
been raised in light of recent archaeological and historical evidence. In the case of Cuba,
this includes evidence literally uncovered through the joint efforts of Cuban and
Canadian archaeologists of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) that suggests later
survival of Taino communities in isolated areas. 19 At the same time, while the decline of
the Taino cannot be denied, the precise extent of that decline has never been definitively
determined, nor were they the only population undergoing decline at that time. Much less
studied is the size of the Spanish colonial population during the same period. 
In one of the very few scholarly accounts to directly address the issue, historian Franklin
Knight, not unlike Pichardo Moya, challenged the predominant literature on the conquest
and colonization of the Spanish Caribbean: 
neither the Spanish conquest nor the growth of the Spanish population should be
exaggerated. Spanish towns, though they claimed contiguous boundaries, were merely
enclaves in the various territories, like islands in a sea of either Indian-occupied or
uninhabited land. Moreover, towns designated as "Spanish" indicated a cultural rather
than an ethnic or phenotypical collection of people. Neither numbers of people nor
descriptions were reliably or consistently given. 20 
In this respect, Cuba was exemplary. During the same period, the demographics for
Cuba's colonist populations also underwent substantial quantitative change, and by no
means did this necessarily imply growth. Until 1519, "the Spanish Caribbean tried
desperately to assume the sociopolitical profile of a newly reconquered Andalusian
territory," with its carefully constructed towns run by cabildos or municipal councils, and
the vecinos (resident citizens) of substance and influence "whose rising prosperity had
been tied to the number of Indians they held in encomienda," a service arrangement
influenced by the Iberian frontier of medieval times. Yet Cuba's prosperity did not
endure. By 1519, colonist dissension was considerable, the source of the island's wealth,
indigenous labor, was in decline, and Hernan Cortes's successful campaign against the
Aztec empire in Mexico soon relegated the status of Cuba in imperial eyes to a secondary
position as supply base for the droves of Spaniards who, in cyclical fashion, abandoned
the island in an exodus to the Spanish Main in search of their own El Dorados. For the
remainder of the sixteenth century, Cuba stagnated economically and demographically, as
it "played second fiddle to the gold- and silver-producing mainland colonies [Mexico and
Peru] for the succeeding centuries, only its strategic location saving it from total
eclipse. 22 With the replacement of Santiago de Cuba by the port city of Havana as Spain's
strategic supply center, Cuba's development, while stagnant, did not cease altogether but
rather shifted perceptibly to the western region and became concentrated in and around
Havana. For the next several centuries, as Perez and other Cuba scholars have pointed
out, this would leave the eastern regions of Cuba relatively isolated and abandoned,
compared to the imperial attention directed at the development of western Cuba,
particularly Havana. During the first century of colonialism in Cuba, however,
throughout the island, the Spanish presence was reduced to a shadow of its former
existence as "the promise of the mainland" continued to motivate flight to the continents,
and depopulation became "a real danger. 23 
By mid-century even Havana, the new colonial capital and Spain's new strategic center in
the Caribbean, sat at barely 60 households-based on the heads of the households or
vecinos-a number that it would not begin to significantly recover from until the
seventeenth century. 24 The Spanish population of the old capital, Santiago de Cuba,
declined to about 30 households, or 150 colonists. Down from some 4000 people since
the 1510s, by the mid-sixteenth century, Cuba's Spanish population had fallen to an
estimated 700 settlers." This, compared to an estimated 3000-7000 recorded Taino
survivors for the same period, would appear to suggest that Spanish colonists were
considerably outnumbered for an extended period of time. 
In spite of efforts by the Spanish imperial government to stem migration from Cuba to
the mainland, Spanish settlements and towns continued to shrink: some, like Baracoa,
were virtually abandoned, while others such as Trinidad were deserted altogether. Only
one new Spanish town was founded during this period, El Cobre, a copper-mining town
in the east. Not until the seventeenth century would another Spanish town be established
in Cuba, when some modest recovery had occurred as a result of imperial Spain's
recognition of the island as a strategic gateway in and out of the Caribbean in general,
and after England's occupation of Jamaica in 1655 in particular. In the meantime,
virtually all of the new settlements established were in the form of reducciones or Indian
towns (more on this later). 26 
Of course, colonist migration does not account entirely for the survival of Cuba's first
peoples. The demographics of an early, mobile colonialism in Cuba only partly (though
significantly) accounts for indigenous persistence in Spain's largest Caribbean colony. In
addition to this, it must be noted that the process of Spanish conquest and colonization in
Cuba did not proceed without early, multifaceted, and extensive resistance from the
island's first settlers (even, notably, in the face of disease epidemics). Indigenous
resistance emerged in the earliest stages of conquest, Velazquez and his forces barely
setting foot on Cuba's shores. 
Unlike the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola, the Taino of eastern Cuba were "neither
unfamiliar with Spanish motives nor unprepared for Spanish methods. Many had been
victims of Spanish pacification campaigns and labor drafts on Hispaniola and, in
desperation, had sought refuge in the more accessible eastern region of Cuba. This
exodus over a period of several years (a migratory process that would be repeated in later
centuries) accounts in some part for the decline in the aboriginal population in Hispaniola
as well as for the indigenous awareness of, and resistance to, Velazquez's expedition. As
Las Casas observed, the Taino escapees had learned much and enlightened the other
Indians concerning the character and conduct of the Christians, of which they had
become aware by hard experience.' 
One of the most notable of these fugitives was Hatuey, a cacique of western Hispaniola.
Hatuey had fled with a number of followers and settled in Cuba the year before the
Spanish conquest, apparently establishing a significant cacicazgo. According to Las
Casas, Hatuey, alerted to the Spaniards' expedition by his informants, rallied the Cuban
Taino to resist the conquistadors. Resist they did. In contrast to the relatively warm
reception experienced in Hispaniola by Columbus in 1492, Velazquez's 1511 expedition
in Cuba encountered resistance almost immediately upon landing. Having learned the
lessons of the Taino in Hispaniola, Cuban Taino were considerably more well-informed,
and therefore generally more hostile to the first Spanish attempts to conquer Cuba. The
four-month struggle that followed eventually found indigenous forces retreating into the
mountains, and the cacique Hatuey captured by the Spaniards. As is well-known in Cuba
and elsewhere, Hatuey was sentenced to be burned at the stake. Just moments from death,
Hatuey was confronted by a Franciscan friar who offered salvation for the cacique's soul
and a place in heaven if he accepted the Christian faith. Hatuey inquired whether it was
true that Christians who died went to heaven. When told that they did, the cacique
answered that he would rather not go there. As for those Taino captured in battle, the
Spanish Crown ordered them enslaved as punishment for taking part in Hatuey' s
"rebellion. 30 
As the conquistadors penetrated westward through the interior, other caciques and their
followers continued to resist the invaders. The combined force and ferocity of Spanish
infantry, cavalry and coastal forces, however, eventually exhausted Taino efforts to repel
the invaders. As Las Casas had documented and as Louis Perez summarized, the Spanish
advance inland became 
an odyssey of pillage and plunder, of death and destruction, culminating in an
unprovoked massacre at the village of Caonao in Northern Camaguey. The carnage at
Caonao was not random violence-its purpose was as much to overcome the Indian
wherewithal to resist as it was to undermine the Indian will to resist. The strategy was not
without effect. Word of Caonao spread quickly, and organized resistance... all but
Many surrendered, but indigenous resistance to the Spanish colonizers also became more
diffuse, ranging from continued but smaller raids on Spanish settlements and flight to the
mountains and other isolated regions, to more subtle, covert forms James Scott has
referred to as "everyday forms of resistance. The latter form of indigenous struggle
became manifest in the early years of Spanish colonialism in Cuba. 
Peoples who had thrived for thousands of years were not so easily done away with. As
many scholars have noted, but, to date, a scarce few have seriously addressed (beyond a
limited period), not all Indians "acquiesced passively" to their exploitation under Spanish
colonialism. At the same time, nor were all Spaniards singularly preoccupied with the
more immediate concerns of generating wealth through economic development on the
backs of a heavily exploited and diminishing indigenous population, and expanding that
wealth through further exploration and imperial expansion. A number of factors, to date
understudied in the context of empires and indigenous peoples in Cuba and the
Caribbean, demand examination toward a more nuanced, accurate and complete
understanding of the nature of empire and the conditions and role(s) of the indigenous
cultures who both resisted overtly and covertly (and contributed to) the colonial societies
that emerged in the region under Spanish imperial oversight. 
As is often the case in history, many things happen at roughly the same time,
contributing, however unevenly, to certain outcomes: in early colonial Cuba, while
indigenous resistance was generated by a combination of events and processes such as
early Spanish colonial exploitation, violence, and disease, it was also facilitated by early
Spanish out-migration, and was dynamic and adaptive enough to evolve and change in
order to facilitate Amerindian persistence during eras of change in colonial society. As
will be seen below, this could translate into adapting and reorganizing the indigenous use
of violence in order to ensure existence within new colonial frameworks, with and/or
against the colonial power. It could also translate into new, less violent and more subtle
forms of resistance and persistence altogether. 
In Cuba, as elsewhere in the New World, miscegenation or mestizaje, often initially
imposed violently by Spanish conquistadors, became a form of adaptation and resistance
exercised by indigenous women, whose social status advanced with marriage to Spanish
colonial elites (the women becoming "Spanish"). In turn, the Crown encouraged unions
with the daughters of indigenous nobility (nitainos), a pattern that would be followed on
the mainland later on. 34 Sauer and others suggest that by the 1520s, on Hispaniola, the
Spanish American colony established earliest and in which Spanish wives were present in
most towns, one husband in three had a native wife. At least as early as 1514, Spain
encouraged the movement of some of Hispaniola' s Hispanic population to Cuba,
"where," as the Crown observed, "there are few Spanish and many Indians." 35 
More than a century after conquest, Cuba remained very much a colony without
European women. From this, along with the fact that many colonists from Hispaniola
brought their Indian wives and Indian slaves over to Cuba by the 1520s, it may be
inferred that the proportion of Spanish-Indian unions (formal and informal) was
comparable if not higher. 36 Indian women, furthermore, played an active role in
perpetuating indigenous lifeways. As scholar Clara Sue Kidwell succinctly put it,
indigenous women were "the first important mediators of meaning between the cultures
of two worlds." 37 In Cuba and the Caribbean, African women were also cultural
mediators. Indian and African women moved "fluidly between and among cultures."
While they adopted the outwardly Spanish styles of dress and language, Indian and
African women also retained traditional indigenous and African ways, including foods
and food preparation, medicines, language, music, song and dance, kinship, reciprocity,
child-raising, and land and resource use generally. 
Historical and archaeological evidence from a number of areas of Cuba and Hispaniola
indicates a high retention level, especially in the countryside, of Indian traditions,
complemented, reinforced and modified by African cultural traditions.' Preliminary
findings from the analysis of fragmentary historical evidence suggest that the offspring of
a number of such unions became members of Cuba's colonial society at various
socioeconomic levels. Even a minority who came to be members of the colonial elite, as,
for example, military officers and colonial officials, retained knowledge of their
indigenous cultural roots. Wright notes that, by the mid- to late sixteenth century, a
number of individuals of Taino heritage from eastern Cuba eventually rose to social
prominence: one, for example, a Captain Juan Ferrer de Vargas from Bayamo, and
another, Captain Juan Recio, were both close acquaintances of the governor of Cuba,
both considered brave and talented officers, and apparently skilled dancers of the areito.
Notably, some of these were the products of Spanish "pacification" of "rebellious"
indigenous fugitive communities and their relocation to "Indian towns" or villages like
Next to the more passive forms of resistance-or infiltration-more active indigenous
resistance was expressed in the refusal to comply with the demands of the colonists and
in flight. In his Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Las Casas makes several
references to indigenes who fled and took refuge in the mountains. 41 Many became
fugitives. Many escaped into the interior, into the inaccessible forests and coastal
mountain ranges, and even onto offshore keys and islands, beyond the reach of colonial
authorities (or censuses). For decades, revolts, uprisings and raids against Spanish
settlements persisted from such bases. By the 1520s, Velazquez and his successor,
Governor Gonzalo de Guzman, reported a number of Indian raids against Spanish towns
and estates, with livestock taken, property destroyed, and in some cases, Spaniards killed.
These attacks were carried out from bases in fugitive (cimarron) indigenous communities
that were formed in some of the more rugged terrain in eastern Cuba as well as in some
of Cuba's many islets and keys. Raiders from these latter locations were in fact referred
to by Spanish authorities as indios cayos or "key Indians." 43 
Notably, runaway fugitive slave communities are more commonly associated in the
historical literature with African slavery. The first cimarrones, however, were indigenous
or Taino runaways (and also understudied and neglected by the historiography), who
began the formation of these fugitive communities or palenques in the sixteenth century,
which a number of enslaved African fugitives joined later on. 4445 Conditions for the
formation of such sanctuaries, or more accurately, settlements, as these communities
became, as noted, were particularly propitious by the end of the first decade of Spanish
colonialism in Cuba.  In fact, most of the first fugitive slave communities in Cuba
were founded by Indians.
Importantly, and with some irony, the conquest of the Mexica- Aztec and Incan empires,
and the exodus of most of Cuba's Spanish colonists to the continents thereafter,
facilitated the persistence and expansion of Taino resistance in the form of flight, and
attacks or what may be termed guerrilla warfare, particularly as a component of fugitive
community formation. Arguably, at the same time, a considerable degree of autonomy
could be gained by Cuba's remaining colonial and, more notably, indigenous population.
In the east, the Tamos certainly appear to have been aware of Cuba's depopulation during
this time. When Spanish towns were not threatened by out-migration, they underwent
stepped-up attacks. Indigenous uprisings occurred on at least two significant occasions-
one in 1524-1532, after the exodus to Mexico, and one in 1538-1544, during a period of
Spanish migration to Peru and Florida. Concentrated in the east, Indian rebellions
"threatened Spanish settlements with extinction." Some, like Puerto Principe and
Bayamo, were destroyed and rebuilt, then destroyed all over again; others, like Baracoa,
underwent a series of relentless attacks. 
The organization, duration and membership of Taino bases for attacks, the fugitive
communities, appear to have varied depending in part on the leadership and cohesiveness
of the group, their location, and also the efficacy, or, in some cases, willingness, of
Spanish authorities to pursue them. In the process of organizing search and destroy
(and/or capture) parties to counteract what had become considerable and aggressive
indigenous resistance, and through interrogation of their captives, Spanish authorities
came to realize the levels of organization of some of the indigenous fugitive communities
from which raids and attacks originated. In 1533, deputy governor and chief magistrate
Manuel de Rojas interrogated a number of men and women captured in the eastern
mountain regions. These had either escaped the service of their vecinos 41 At the same
time, the report noted that many men, women and children remained hidden in the jungle
and mountain regions.  and/or had taken part in raids on Spanish settlements. After
questioning and cross-examination, it was determined that these "fugitive Indians" had
been in hiding for various periods of time (depending on their time of flight), ranging
from one to more than eight years.
At least one of these, Guama, a rebel cacique in the mountainous eastern region, had,
according to a report submitted by the cabildo of Santiago de Cuba, lived out in a hidden
runaway community "for many years" with about sixty followers, many of whom were
escapees from the Baracoa mines. 49 Guama was reported to have had "many cultivated
lands in the wilderness." 50 That this group was formidable in resistance is suggested by
Spanish colonial authorities' simultaneous knowledge and avoidance of molesting the
community. The decision to finally "extirpate" the rebel community in the mid-1530s
was prompted by Spanish suspicions of an alliance between Guama and the formidable
forces under the rebel chieftain Enriquillo in Hispaniola. Notably, only when the colonial
government began its attacks on Guama' s camps did the cacique and his followers attack
the Spaniards in various locations around Santiago, including Venta de Cauto, an
important trade center. 51 
Over the next several decades of the sixteenth century, raids, uprisings and protests, by
Indians and the smaller but growing numbers of African slaves alike, continued to
challenge Spanish authorities and aggravate colonists. Colonials distinguished between
"wild" Indians (cimarrones) and "domesticated" (manso) or "peaceful" Indians (indios de
paz). Yet to some like Governor Gonzalo de Guzman, the distinction was illusory.
Guzman insisted on the augmentation of Spanish arms in Cuba: "they are needed to keep
down even the tame Indians who accept intercourse with Spaniards as cheerfully as they
would dig out their own eyes." 52 Typically also, a merchant from Santiago de Cuba wrote
in 1543: "In the twenty years that I have lived in Cuba, there has not been one in which a
tax has not been levied for pacifying and conquering the runaway or rebellious
Indians." By the latter part of the sixteenth century, even after recurring smallpox
epidemics, revolts against the Spanish continued. In the late sixteenth century, colonial
authorities continued to discover Indian villages "theretofore entirely unknown to
Spaniards." 54 Furthermore, according to Cuban scholar Perez De la Riva, 
Because of their extreme degree of mobility, the hamlets increased in number with the
influx of runaway slaves and criminals, and with the passage of time they became
permanent communities. These eventually gave rise to nuclei of the Cuban peasant
population of today, which is dispersed throughout the most distant areas of the
country.... 55 
As Spanish retaliation appeared to gain the upper hand on indigenous attacks, flight to
isolated settlements continued. These palenques or runaway communities, whether
among the Cuban keys or in the jungles and mountain regions of eastern Cuba, served as
both sites of resistance and autonomous development, and transculturation. This was
particularly the case as the numbers of African slaves imported into Cuba grew and as
more of these escaped to the more isolated eastern regions of the island. Studies of this
question in other parts of the Caribbean and especially in the southeastern region of the
United States indicate that not all Indian palenques were necessarily receptive to African
slave fugitives; some were quite hostile. The little research that has to date been
conducted, even by Cuban scholars, suggests that a number of rebellions during the 16
century in Cuba included Indians and African slaves in the ranks. Again, most of the
runaway slave settlements established were founded by Indians; a number were also
founded by Indians and African slaves. 56 Although the extent oipalenque 1 
miscegenation between Indians and African slaves in Cuba is not clear, it is clear that it
It is also plausible and arguable that indigenous populations in runaway communities
survived and perhaps even thrived in relative isolation. Consider, for example, Spanish
"discoveries" of new, previously unknown settlements even by the end of the sixteenth
century. Although beyond the scope of this essay, similar settlements in more isolated
regions of Cuba would be encountered as late as the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, the indigeneity of community members confirmed in local parish records. It
may also be argued, therefore, that Cuban Tamos did not become "extinct" by the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is supported by scant but substantive historical
evidence presented by a select few scholars like Knight (though, it seems, never pursued),
Wright, and Pichardo Moya. 59 Fragmentary but significant historical evidence has also
been uncovered in AGI records in the preliminary findings of the author (discussed
below), and in already noted recent archaeological evidence excavated by the ROM and
Cuban archaeologists. 
The results of the analysis of a number of primary and secondary sources strongly
suggest that a case may be made to argue that both the initiative of indigenous Cubans
and of the Spanish Crown facilitated the survival of Cuba's aboriginal population. A
population admittedly later reinforced to some degree by the migration (voluntary and
involuntary) of indigenous peoples from other parts of the Caribbean and continental
Americas, this is arguably qualified at least in part by geography and demographics. That
is, many if not most indigenous visitors and/or immigrants appear to have been
concentrated in western Cuba; added to this is the demographic fact that, at least until the
beginning of the seventeenth century, indigenas in Cuba outnumbered Spanish settlers,
suggesting, in turn, that a number of Indian towns or pueblos, at least and especially in
eastern Cuba, were populated by Taino majorities. 60 
Pueblos like Guanabacoa and Jiguani (founded nearly two centuries apart), for example,
were originally founded for the purpose of congregating and protecting a declining and
endangered (by encroaching colonists) indigenous population. 61 Later Amerindian
immigrant arrivals appear to have settled in some of these pueblos, particularly in western
Cuba, and intermarried with some of the indigenous inhabitants. 62 In addition to this, the
available evidence further suggests that, as late as the mid-nineteenth century, the
indigenous population in Cuba was reinforced by Taino descendants immigrating to the
island from Hispaniola. 63 Furthermore, the Spanish Crown facilitated survival through
paternalistic Indian policies and legislation, such as the New Laws (1542), which
probably had more impact in a Cuba depopulated of Spaniards than in a Mexico or Peru
where Spanish populations grew, where demands for Indian labor were accumulating,
and where the Spanish Crown itself had a far greater financial stake. 
In the New World in general and Cuba in particular, Spanish imperial initiatives such as
the Siete Partidas, the Patronato Real, Laws of Burgos, and then the New Laws, were all
part and parcel of an attempt by imperial Spain to reconcile its conflicting moral and
economic interests: to convert the Indians into Christians and ensure a modicum of
protection from colonists in the process of "civilizing" them as subjects and workers.
This was the essence of the encomienda ("commending") and repartimiento (distribution)
of Native laborers to conquistadors and other colonists. To facilitate the process of
evangelization and education, where Indian peoples were not already concentrated in
Spanish-converted centers like Baracoa, they were relocated in new settlements or
reducciones which later became known as poblados indios ox pueblos indios- 'Indian
towns." At least one of these, Guanabacoa, was situated in western Cuba. Most,
however, were located in the east, and included Yara, Dos Brazos, Mayan, Yateras, La
Guira, El Caney, and Jiguani. 
The conscientious and concomitant reforms of the Spanish Crown facilitated indigenous
survival. Paradoxically, then, while the crown authorized by royal cedulas (decrees)
retaliation against Indian attackers raiding Spanish settlements and estates, it also
continued to demonstrate an interest in establishing the legitimacy of the Spanish
Catholic Empire in the New World by addressing the status of the indigenous inhabitants
whose Christianization and well-being were supposed to have represented the conquest's
cardinal inspiration. For the Spanish Catholic Empire, this meant paying heed to the
rising conflict and debate over the conditions, aptitude and very nature of the indigenous
American subjects within its realm. The Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas and
other advocates for the Indians among the clergy had not relented in actively pointing out
the shortcomings of the crown's Indian policy. Conflict remained unreconciled, for
example, "between the theory, officially so frequently expressed, that the Cubenos
[Cuban Indians] were the free, loyal vassals of the Crown, and the unlovely facts of the
repartimiento system of their bondage." 65 
In a "scathing recital of Spanish cruelties" in a document dated November 1526, Charles
V made no less pointed criticism than Las Casas did of Spanish brutalities in conquest
and colonization, and acknowledged the Spaniards' role in the devastation of the
indigenous population. 66 In 1527 Fray Pedro Mexia de Trillo of Hispaniola, provincial of
the Franciscan order, was instructed to investigate and punish mistreatment of
"commended" Indians in Cuba. Fray Pedro was to "liberate the natives within the limits
of right living and religion, that they might increase, not decrease." 67 Correspondence
indicates that the settlers of Cuba got wind of the Crown's intentions and arranged
through their governor and the audiencia (royal court) to test the Indians' capacity for
liberty. Predictably, less than a month later, Governor Guzman claimed to possess
evidence proving the aboriginal people unfit for the responsibilities of freedom, and
added that the Indians were rebelling against the Spaniards. The colonial government's
lawyers also weighed in, insisting that the crown's policy of liberation would end in the
massacre of Spanish settlers, a return to primitive vice and idolatry, and the end of the
colony and the revenues that it generated. These colonial advocates petitioned for the
retention of encomiendas and the status quo, arguing that "the said Indians would come
the sooner into the true knowledge of our holy Catholic faith." 68 
Not satisfied with these responses, Charles V reissued orders to Fray Pedro. Cuba was
presented with a series of new Indian ordinances, the core of which was the Crown's own
experiment to determine the capacity of Cuban Indians for self-government, or more
accurately, to "live like Spaniards." The friar was to arrange the assembly of Indians into
towns, for which "honest clergy" were to be appointed to oversee their instruction in
living "like reasonable people." As insurance that the Indians be "liberated and
administered as free vassals and so come into knowledge of the Holy Faith,' the Bishop
of Cuba, Fray Miguel Ramirez, was appointed protector of the Indians. 69 The crown's
confidence, however, proved misplaced. The bishop proved more amenable to colonist
than crown interests, accepting from the governor an encomienda of his own, in
contravention of royal decrees. 
The imperial government's experiment to determine the capacity of Indians to live "like
farmers in Castile" was slow in being implemented by the colonial government. By the
early 1530s, its failure appeared imminent. The determination of most of the colony's
white population to see the experiment fail, along with the inconsistent application, or
even non-application, of the crown's instructions, seems to have foredoomed the
enterprise. One of the few officials who appears to have attempted to fulfill the crown's
wishes, Manuel de Rojas reported having encountered great difficulty in attempting to
put the experiment into practice. At the same time, according to Rojas, there appears to
have been some willingness on the part of the indigenous population of the pueblo of
Bayamo to comply. The extent of indigenous participation (versus resistance), however,
and of the process and progress of the experiment itself remain unclear and in need of
more sustained research. 
Resistance on the part of Spaniard or Indian can perhaps be attributed at least in part to
conditions on the island during the 1530s. As noted, the conquest of Mexico and
subsequent exodus to the mainland left Spanish settlements depopulated; Spanish
colonists were and remained outnumbered by Cuban Indians for more than half a century.
At the same time, aboriginal Cubans saw an opportunity to regain control of their
communities in certain regions. As was not uncommon for the Spanish Caribbean
generally, Spanish towns during this period were more often outnumbered than
predominant in the colony, and when immigration did revive the colonial population, it
would be heavily concentrated in the western regions, leaving eastern Cuba relatively
7 ? w
untouched. At the same time, as Knight pointed out, there were Spanish towns and
"Spanish" towns: the latter more cultural than ethnic or phenotypical. 73 
The empadronamiento , or male registration records for Cuba, shed some important light
on the population question in the late sixteenth century. Perhaps more importantly, these
records are also essential in light of the discussion above on the dwindling Spanish
colonial population vis-a-vis indigenous population, that is, concerning the composition
of urban populations and identities of individuals indicated as vecinos (resident citizens,
household heads). As noted earlier, recorded estimates of the remaining Spanish colonial
population during the exodus to Mexico were based on the number of vecinos. Yet by no
means does this always indicate Spanish vecinos. In 1570, for example, the
empadronamiento indicated that there were between 235 and 542 vecinos in Cuba, the
lower number representing Spanish males in towns, the higher number, the total of
Spanish and Indian males. In other words, of 542 vecinos; more than half of these, at least
307, were hispanicized Indians. Based on these figures, Cuba had a population density of
one vecino per 480 square kilometers, or, assuming the vecino to represent the male head
of household (not always true) and a household equaling five members, Cuba's
population density amounted to barely 1 per 100 square kilometers. 74 In other words, by
the end of the sixteenth century, after three generations of colonialism, Cuba remained
still sparsely populated by Spanish colonists. 
Official reports prepared by visiting clergy provide an additional and important source of
evidence that sheds more light on this vital issue. In 1570, a report was submitted by
Bishop Juan del Castillo who visited numerous towns throughout Cuba. The visita, or
report, contains details on the populations and conditions of more than ten towns. The
conclusion reached is that in almost every case, Spaniards were outnumbered by
indigenous Cubans. Furthermore, "the large number of married-and therefore converted
-Indians within the jurisdiction of the Spaniards indicates that not only were the natives
far from being annihilated but also that Spanish control of the island was restricted to
small scattered settlements of largely non-Spanish populations." Three towns-Los
Caneyes, Trinidad, Guanabacoa-were entirely inhabited by Indians, while at least two
other towns had indigenous majorities. The only two that were entirely Spanish were
Havana and Santiago, which accounted for a minority of vecinos. That is, less than 50
percent of the population living within the official limits of the state were of Spanish
descent. 76 
Yet these large Indian populations are not represented in the official record, in officially
administered centers. What of indigenous population numbers outside these official
limits, outside the official record? In light of the available historical evidence, it may be
reasonably inferred that the number of Indians outside these Spanish-controlled (if even
this term is appropriate) centers was considerably greater and their extinction nowhere
near as immediate as generally assumed; therefore, in need of serious reassessment. 
In spite of the above evidence, the historiography effectively abandons serious
consideration of indigenous peoples in Cuba for the period after the sixteenth century (or
Indians or mestizos generally) in favor of a substantially narrowed focus on the African
slave trade and slavery. In the Caribbean and especially in Cuba, this is what the history
of race, culture, and intercultural relations becomes so thoroughly grounded in (until very
recently, for some parts of the Caribbean). In fact, the available fragmentary evidence is
enough to urge further, more serious study of the relationship between empire and
indigenous peoples in the region. This is suggested, to begin with, in an early seventeenth
century report submitted to the monarch by Governor of Cuba, Don Pedro de Valdes who
lamented the existence of the many "gente barbara," particularly the "indios," who
continued to occupy the colony. At the same time, as will be seen below, such gente
became, once again, members of communities which, in turn, became important
contributors to the stability and defense of the Spanish realm. 
Particularly relevant in this context, for example, was Spanish reorganization of the
empire in the Caribbean by the seventeenth century toward a policy of strategic
withdrawal from peripheral areas (including smaller Caribbean islands), concentrating on
the protection and shipment of bullion and precious metals from the mainland, and
therefore fortifying strategic ports like Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Havana underwent
a modest growth in commerce, and western Cuba became a focus of imperial interest. In
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while Spanish settlements recovered, pueblos
indios or Indian towns, endured and evolved, and new ones were founded. By this time,
however, it appears that a new trend had emerged in the founding of pueblos indios. 
Although under or within the general framework of colonial Spanish administrative
oversight, some Indian towns were, nevertheless, founded not by ecclesiastical or state
authorities but through the initiative of Indians themselves. At least one example of this is
the village of Jiguani in eastern Cuba. Jiguani came into being through the initiative of
"el Indio" Miguel Rodriguez who, with the support of the Catholic Church, was able to
have the pueblo or village formally established in 1700. Rodriguez endeavored to gather
into Jiguani "all of the Indians of the Bayamo region," descendants of those indigenas
who had survived the conquest and colonization of early colonial Cuba. Members of the
indigenous population of Jiguani also composed its cabildo or governing council,
representatives responsible for administering the affairs of the pueblo Furthermore, in
Indian towns like Bayamo and Jiguani, indigenous peoples in Cuba appear to have played
an increasing role not only in the government of their own communities, but also directly
and indirectly in the defense of the realm.  and the surrounding district over which it
As Spain's American empire continued to develop, Cuba's geographical position made it
a center of increasing strategic importance for ships plying the route between the
Americas and Europe. Fortifications like that of El Morro constructed at Havana,
Santiago de Cuba, and other port cities became essential defensive measures against the
encroachments of rival European powers and their "semi-official bands of privateers."
In eighteenth-century Cuba, although some of this Amerindian labor came in the form of
prisoners shipped from the internal provinces of New Spain, there is also evidence that
suggests that at least some of the Indians who provided service for the defense of the
Antillean pearl were indigenous Cubans residing in the pueblos indios.  Along with
Havana's rising naval importance came a growing demand for labor to build the
fortifications and residences, and provision its inhabitants. Although it remains unclear to
what extent Indians were subject to the same kinds of labor exactions as their
counterparts in the mainland during this period, it is clear that they did provide services
as laborers in the construction of fortifications, and were paid a wage and/or received
Amerindians in Cuba contributed to the defense of the empire not only as laborers but
more directly through the performance of military duties. The compiled listings for the
late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries entitled the "Register of vecinos, bachelors,
Indians, transients and free blacks..." (eg. of Havana and Baracoa) indicate the names
and profiles of men deemed eligible for military service. In the register for Havana and
Baracoa, next to Spanish or Spanish-Creoles (168), Indian males represent the second
largest group (84 or nearly 30 percent), while mestizos and mulattos came in third at 22
percent. The historiography, however, makes scant reference to the important fact that
Indians did participate as members of defense forces arrayed against other imperial
intruders (England, France) as armed sentinels, as members of specialized infantry
battalions and in indigenous militias. 
One of the standard references on the military and civil society in Cuba is Allan Kuethe's
Cuba, 1735-1815: Crown, Military and Society. Kuethe addresses the important issue of
the militias that formed the first lines of defense against French and especially British
invasion attempts before the establishment of a professionalized military force. Yet there
is virtually no mention of Amerindian participation. Kuethe argues that the
effectiveness of the Cuban militia was limited until the Spanish Crown moved to reform
Cuba's defenses after the British occupation in the early 1760s. Prior to this, he notes that,
though generally poorly organized and militarily ineffective, there were a few occasions
during which the militias did fight well. 86 In the process of Spain's "disciplining" reforms
in Cuba, Spanish recruiters formed white and African-American infantry battalions.
Indians, as Kuethe importantly but all too briefly pointed out, were also recruited and
officially incorporated into the ranks of the white militias. Chronic labor shortages, the
paucity of able-bodied Spanish men, and the illegality of recruiting those deemed wards
of the state and legal minors into the white battalions, resulted in the official-if
deceptive-declaration of Indian recruits as "white" in colonial government records. The
Indians of Bayamo, for example, were recruited and listed in the official record in this
For a slightly clearer understanding of the significance of the indigenous role in the
defense of the Spanish realm in Cuba, one has to refer back to Wright's 1916 work on
early Cuba (and a precious few other Cuban works). As Wright notes, Indians served as
sentinels who stood watch for French and British invaders in the late sixteenth century.
Indians also numbered among the Spanish, mestizo and mulatto volunteers who formed
the militias in Cuban towns and settlements. As Maria Elena Diaz notes in her recent
and masterful work on the African slaves of El Cobre, Cuba was the one territory in the
Spanish empire where militias of color became most prevalent in the defense network of
the crown. Relative to other European empires, Native Americans were rarely used in the
defense system of the Spanish empire. Cuba, however, was an exception. In Cuba, the
Indians of a number of communities formed and supported their own militia companies
by the eighteenth century, and probably earlier. Examples include the villages of
Bayamo, El Caney and Jiguanf. The Indian militias of El Caney had, in fact, been
entrusted with the watch and defense of the coastal post of Juragua since at least the
seventeenth century. 
Militia companies were part and parcel of the obligations of all colonial communities to
the Spanish empire, obligations to be met in return for certain privileges granted by the
crown. Indigenous communities like Jiguanf, as part of this arrangement and as subjects
of the dominion, were expected to reciprocate like any other colonial town. In exchange,
therefore, for corporate land grants, usufruct rights to land, and a considerable degree of
autonomy via the maintenance of a cabildo or town council of community
representatives, Indians also fulfilled their obligations to the crown. These included, for
example, mail delivery, providing labor for public works and the construction of
fortifications (eg. El Morro), and (sometimes informally) militia service in defense of the
realm. 90 Yet, service for the imperial government did not always guarantee the protection
of the autonomy of Indian towns from encroaching Spanish settlement. Jiguanf was
Born of the struggles of Cuba's aboriginal peoples to survive against land-hungry
Spanish vecinos, Jiguanf s indigenas continued the struggle in their efforts to maintain
the integrity of their pueblo. Before the end of the eighteenth century, however, the
"indios naturales" of Jiguanf found their lands encroached upon and themselves under a
legal attack spawned by the Spanish vecinos of the Bayamo district, who coveted the
lands within the jurisdiction of the pueblo and disputed the integrity of the village and
boundaries. Rodriguez appears to have anticipated such a contingency and had secured
documentation that legally established the pueblo and clearly marked out the
jurisdictional boundaries. It was, it seems, his and other representatives' legal and
political foresight that ensured the necessary ammunition against vecino attacks. 
In the late eighteenth century, while the geofagos [literally "earth eaters"] appeared
resolute in expanding their estates, the determination and resolution of the indigenas of
the pueblo of Jiguani to defend their lands is born out in the myriad petitions, testimonies,
and other instruments in their legal and political array deployed in a struggle that
stretched out over several decades until the beginning of the nineteenth century. In
addition to military duties to the Spanish Crown, therefore, the officers of Indian militia
companies like that of Jiguani also represented and defended their communities through
petitioning the crown or in litigation concerning community boundaries. ' According to
the Dossier of Land Claims of Jiguani, for example, the community had sent
representatives as early as 1702 and also in 1727, 1782 and 1784-1785 to litigate
community boundaries and to defend against any encroachments therein. 94 
Notably, subordinate groups like the Indians of Jiguani had had recourse to the regional
royal courts or audiencias since the beginning of Spanish colonization. Scholars are
generally agreed that, at least in the early colonial period, the audiencias functioned fairly
impartially, and indigenous claimants could and did prevail in their litigation. Indians
continued to rely on and resort to these courts for the resolution of land disputes for
several centuries, as is evident in the actions of communities like those of the Jiguani
Indians, who traveled to the Santo Domingo audiencia at least three times during the 18 th
century, during which the court heard the residents' grievances. 95 By the nineteenth
century, however, imperial reforms and colonial independence struggles in the continents
heralded a new epoch. 
Ultimately, eventually, and ironically, but also consistent historically, early in the
nineteenth century, though imperial Spain had earlier decreed the audiencias into
existence and facilitated the establishment of autonomous Indian towns, by the end of the
eighteenth century, institutions like the audiencias were proving less impartial, and
therefore less judicious, providing the vecinos with greater means with which to acquire
more land. The Bourbon dynasty introduced a more heavily centralized imperial
administration, later accompanied by wars of independence, which reverberated in the
Caribbean. Faced with the need to reinforce the loyalty of its Antillean pearl, Spain
stepped up reforms. By 1820, this translated into a movement away from political
autonomy and economic diversity, and more concerted (and unprecedented) support for
larger landed interests like the sugar planters. Again, though this had greater impact in
western than eastern Cuba, the effects were eventually felt throughout the island colony.
In Cuba, the office of the Protector of Indians was abolished in 1820; by 1844 the
Pueblos Indios were abolished by the Crown altogether. According to the statements of a
number of outspoken Spanish vecinos at that time, little remained of the town's
indigenous population, many had either intermarried with criollo (Creole) Cubans or
departed, presumably in the context of the enduring struggle over land. 96 This remains
unclear and debatable on at least two counts: one, the presumption that indigenas who
married white residents stopped being indigenavecinos with their own vested interests in
mind.  (beyond legal and statistical labeling); and two, that such statements were
made by Spanish
Nevertheless, by the mid-nineteenth century, Indian towns were being officially
"hispanicized," mainstreamed, as it were, into the modern era. It appears that some
pueblos indios were more immediately affected by the imperial reforms and land
pressures than others, especially those near larger towns, estates, and so on. Some, like El
Caney, appear to have endured at least until the era of Cuba's own wars of independence
against imperial Spain in the 1860s and thereafter. At the same time, Cuba's indigenous
populations also became dispersed, a process aided in considerable part by a series of
struggles for independence that endured over three decades, and that took their toll on
many Cuban population centers, including the remaining pueblos indios like El Caney.
As this essay has attempted to demonstrate, the indigenous presence and role in Cuba
remained substantial well beyond the first century of Spanish conquest and colonization.
The combined factors of a multifaceted indigenous struggle, imperial ambivalence, and
colonial conflict go a considerable way toward explaining the resilience and persistence
of indigenous peoples in Cuba. At another level, it may also help explain the apparent
ambivalence of surviving indigenas toward the independence wars of the late nineteenth
century: some like Jesus Rabi, of Jiguani, and those who formed the Hatuey regiment,
supported the independence effort; others appear to have served as scouts for the Spanish
forces. At any rate, by the end of Spain's dominion in Cuba in 1898, a combination of
royal fiat and the devastation of the independence wars may have helped ensure the
dispersal (again) of Cuba's remaining indigenous populations, but not necessarily their
1 Felipe Pichardo Moya, Caverna, costa y meseta: interpretaciones de arqueologia
indocubana (Havana, 1945), pp. 29-30.
2 Felipe Pichardo Moya, Los indios de Cuba en sus tiempos historicos, (Habana:
Imprenta El Siglo XX, 1945). See also the review by Duvon Corbitt of Pichardo Moya's
essay in the Hispanic American Historical Review , May 1946, 26(2): 212-214.
3 L. Antonio Curet, "Descent and Succession in the Protohistoric Chiefdoms of the
Greater Antilles," Ethnohistory, Spring 2002, 49(2): 259-260; Massimo Livi-Bacci,
"Return to Hispaniola: Reassessing a Demographic Catastrophe," Hispanic -American
Historical Review, February 2003, 83(1): 3-4.
4 European chroniclers made many observations on aboriginal seafaring technology-
crafts that included canoes and rafts, some with sails. In an entry dated December 3,
1492, Columbus commented on this Taino technology, spotting "five very large craft that
the Indians call canoes," including one with "seventeen benches." The Dominican monk
Bartolome de Las Casas observed somewhat later in Cuba that "they walked many roads,
they found many villages and very fertile lands and all cultivated, and big rivers, and near
one, they found a canoe made of a log ninety-five palms long [about 20 meters] in which
they say 150 persons could sail." Columbus, Diario, p. 192, cited in Ramon Dacal Moure
and Manuel Rivero de la Calle, Art and Archaeology of Pre-Columbian Cuba
(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), p. 10. Las Casas, Historia de Las
Indias, Vol. I, p. 246, cited in Dacal Moure; de la Calle, p. 10. The word Taino was used
by the people themselves to mean "good" or "noble" people or "good men and not
cannibals." Social organization also based on matrilineal descent, avunculocal residence.
See Kathleen Deagan and Jose Maria Cruxent, Columbus's Outpost Among the Tainos:
Spain and America at Isabela, 1493-1498 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp.
23-24. Dacal Moure; Rivero de la Calle, Art and Archaeology of Pre-Columbian Cuba,
pp. 9-10, 20. See also the relevant works of Fernando Ortiz.
5 The sociopolitical organization of the Taino ranged from two-tiered hierarchies to
"paramount chiefdoms." The term is in fact often translated as chiefdoms. Through the
medieval eyes of the Spaniards, cacicazgos probably looked very much like feudal
kingdoms. Both caciques ("chiefs" or community headmen) and cacicazgos would
become appropriated for the needs of Spanish colonialism, in Hispaniola, site of the first
permanent European settlement in the New World (Santo Domingo), and then in Cuba,
conquered and settled more than a decade later. The majority of cacicazgos were
concentrated in eastern Cuba. L. Antonio Curet, "Descent and Succession in the
Protohistoric Chiefdoms of the Greater Antilles," Ethnohistory, Spring 2002, p. 2.
6 Probably the most accurate designation for Cuban indigenous groups generally is
Taino. Based on historical and archaeological sources, and with the exception of a
minority of peoples forcibly imported into Cuba somewhat later to bolster labor needs, it
is probably safest to refer to aboriginal Cubans as at least in part because recent
archaeological evidence unearthed by Cuban and Canadian archaeologists strongly
suggests that the majority of those characterized as "indios" or Indians, at least until
sometime in the late eighteenth century, were Tainos. My reference here to "indias" or
"Indians" is an historical one, and refers primarily to indigenous Cubans (with an
understanding that a minority may be from other regions in the Caribbean or circum-
Caribbean, though I contend, based on the available archaeological and historical
evidence, that, compared to western Cuba, this was a small minority in the eastern region
(and overall in Cuba) and that Taino and their descendants formed the majority-by the
nineteenth century, many mestizo/mulatto or trigeno, in the Cuban vernacular.
7 See Irving Rouse, The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus,
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 142-143. No gold was found at this point;
the Tainos offered cotton instead.
8 Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp.
9 Gabino La Rosa Corzo, Los palenques del oriente de Cuba, Havana: Editorial
Academia, 1988, pp. 36-37.
10 Louis Perez, Cuba (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 23-27 '.
1 1 I. A. Wright, The Early History of Cuba, 1492-1586 (New York: MacMillan
Company, 1916), p. 39. Wright was among the first to make extensive use of the records
of the Archivo General de Indias for the study of colonial Cuba. Her book remains as one
of the standard works for the period.
12 See Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, Historia general y natural de las Indias;
also cited in Wright, p. 65.
13 Perez, Cuba, pp. 28-29.
14 Perez, Cuba, pp. 28-29.
15 See Bartolome de Las Casas, "Brevisima relation de la destruicion de las Indias,
colegida por el Obispo Don Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, de la orden de Santo
Domingo, ano 1552," in Obras escogidas de Bartolome de Las Casas: opusculos, cartas
y memorials, Madrid, 1958.
16 Cited in Perez, Cuba, pp. 29-30; Suzanne Austin Alchon, A Pest in the Land: New
World Epidemics in a Global Perspective (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
Press, 2003), p. 64.
17 Cited in Perez, Cuba, pp. 29-30; Suzanne Austin Alchon, A Pest in the Lan, p. 64.
18 W. George Lovell, '"Heavy Shadows and Black Night': Disease and Depopulation in
Colonial Spanish America," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 1992,
(82)3: 427-429; Linda A. Newson, "Indian Population Patterns in Colonial Spanish
America," Latin American Research Review 1985, 20(3): 46. See also David Noble
Cook, Born to Die (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
19 "Archaeology in Cuba," David M. Pendergast, Elizabeth Graham, Jorge Calera, and
Jorge Jardines, http://www.belizecubadigs.com/cuba.html, 2002. As noted on the site,
excavations were concentrated at Los Buchillones, and were originally based on a
collaborative agreement in 1994 between the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnologfa y Medio
Ambiente (CITMA) and the Royal Ontario Museum. Present work at Los Buchillones
represents collaboration between CITMA and the Institute of Archaeology, University
20 Knight, The Caribbean, p. 42.
21 Knight, The Caribbean, p. 34. Note: Cuba was the frontier until the end of conquest
on the mainland.
22 Knight, pp. 40-41.
23 Perez, p. 33.
24 Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz, The Population of Latin America: A History (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1974), p. 82.
25 Cited in Perez, p. 33.
26 Perez, pp. 32-34.
27 Perez, p. 24.
28 Bartolome de Las Casas, "Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias, colegida
por el Obispo Don Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, de la orden de Santo Domingo, ano
1552," in Obras escogidas de Bartolome de Las Casas: opusculos, cartas y memoriales
(Madrid, 1958), pp. 142-143.
29 Las Casas, "Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias," p. 142.
30 Cited in Wright, p. 48. See also Santo Domingo en los manuscritos de Juan Muhoz,
Roberto Marte, ed. (Santo Domingo: Ediciones Fundacion Garcia Arevalo, 1981).
31 See Bartolome de Las Casas, Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias.
Perez, p. 26.
32 See James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Resistance (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1985).
33 Perez also concludes "extinction," p. 30.
34 "Rei a Almirante, Juezes &," September 27, 1514, in Santo Domingo en los
manuscritos de Juan Bautista Muhoz, Roberto Marte, ed., p. 122.
35 "Rei a Almirante, Juezes, Oficiales," October 19, 1514, in Santo Domingo en los
manuscritos de Juan Bautista Muhoz, p. 123.
36 Carl Sauer, The Early Spanish Main (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969),
pp. 198-205. Also to be considered are problems with colonial records "disappearing,"
that is, Indians who adopt Spanish clothing, language and/or culture and are thereafter
recorded by authorities as "Spanish." While Indians disappear from census in this and
other ways, it is all in the name. Censuses in Cuba, for example, did not include mestizos
or mulattos or other categories of mixed-blood peoples until the 1580s (See Knight;
Guitar). Historical evidence for the process of mestizaje in Cuba, compared for that of the
period of African slavery, remains understudied and requires serious examination.
37 Clara Sue Kidwell, "Indian Women as Cultural Mediators," Ethnohistory Spring 1992,
38 Lynne A. Guitar, "Cultural Genesis: Relationships Among Indians, Africans and
Spaniards in Rural Hispaniola, First Half of the Sixteenth Century," Ph.D. Diss.,
Vanderbuilt University, Nashville, TN, 1998, pp. 422-426.
39 A ritual Taino dance celebrating the deeds of ancestors. Cited in Wright (1916), pp.
40 Wright, pp. 186-188.
41 See, for example, Bartolome de Las Casas, A Brief Account of the Devastation of the
Indies, Herma Brifault, trans. (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp.
42 Carta de Gonzalo de Guzman a Su Majestad, informando del alzamiento de unos
indios en unas isletas de la banda del norte, Santiago de Cuba, March 8, 1529, Patronato,
leg. 178, R.12, AGI. See also Wright, p. 93.
43 Cited in Wright, p. 93. See also Las Casas, "Los agravios de los Indios," Brevisima
relacion, pp. 3-5. NB. Wright (1916) and ROM (1999) refer to huts or bohios built on
piles or stilts over water radiocarbon dated at AD 1680; notably, archaeologists are
uncertain as to why these were built when such construction was considerably more
difficult compared to land dwellings; abandonment is noted as a consideration.
44 Palenques are long term, self-sustaining runaway communities, are distinguishable
from rancherias, which are usually more temporary settlements. See La Rosa Corzo, pp.
45 La Rosa Corzo, pp. 40-41.
46 Perez, p. 33.
47 "Interrogation of Indian Runaways, 1533," Boletin delANC, 41 (1941), pp. 46-53,
cited in Parry, J.H., Robert G. Keith; Michael Jimenez, eds., New Iberian World: A
Documentary History of the Discovery and Settlement of Latin America to the Early 17th
Century, New York: Times Books, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 353-356.
48 "Interrogation of Indian Runaways, 1533," Boletin delANC, 41 (1941), pp. 46-53. It
should be noted that Indians also accompanied slave hunting parties.
49 "Carta del cabildo de Santiago a S.M.," November 23, 1530, in Coleccion de
documentos ineditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organizacion de las antiguas
posesiones espanolas de ultramar, Madrid: Publicado por la Real Academia de la
Historia, 1885-1932, Segunda serie., vol. 2, pp. 168-169. Also cited in Documentos para
la historia de Cuba: epoca colonial, Vol. I, Hortensia Pichardo, ed. (Havana: Editorial de
Ciencias Sociales, 1971), p. 96.
50 "Carta del cabildo de Santiago a S.M.," November 23, 1530, Coleccion de
documentos ineditos, Segunda serie, V. 2, pp. 168-169. Also cited in F. Perez de la Riva,
La habitacion rural en Cuba, La Habana: Contribucion del Grupo Guama, Antropologia
No. 26, 1952, pp. 20-28.
51 "Information hecha en la ciudad de Santiago por el de Rojas, teniente gobernador,
autorizada por el escribano G. Diaz de Pinera," January 12, 1533, Coleccion de
documentos ineditos, Segunda serie, V. 2, pp. 307-308. Also cited in Documentos para la
historia de Cuba: epoca colonial, Vol. 1, Hortensia Pichardo, ed. (Havana: Editorial de
Ciencias Sociales, 1971), p. 97. See also Wright (1916), pp. 137-140.
52 Cited in Wright, p. 13 6.
53 Cited in Perez de la Riva, La habitacion rural en Cuba, La Habana: Contribucion del
Grupo Guama, Antropologia No. 26, 1952, pp. 20-28.
54 Cited in Wright (1916), pp. 140, 187. In 1875-1876, a village of "macuriges" or
"macunas" (macorix?) Indians, for example, was uncovered and then captured by
Spanish colonial authorities. During interrogation, the caciques apparently revealed that
their population, some 60 in number, was the offspring of two men and two women.
55 Perez de la Riva, La habitacion rural en Cuba, La Habana: Contribucion del Grupo
Guama, Antropologia No. 26, 1952, pp. 20-28. Although the substantial research and
analysis of La Rosa Corzo of fugitive slave communities for the later period has since
superceded much of Perez's work, serious study of these earlier communities and the
process of formation remains to be done.
56 La Rosa Corzo, p. 40.
57 Guitar covers this question for Hispaniola to some extent in her dissertation, "Cultural
Genesis." See also La Rosa Corzo regarding slave hunters' diaries as sources.
58 This is the subject matter of another paper in progress. Meanwhile, see Stewart Culin,
"The Indians of Cuba," Bulletin of the Free Museum of Science and Art, 1902, vol. 3, pp.
185-226, R.R. Gates, "Studies in Race Crossing: Indian Remnants in Eastern Cuba,"
Genetica, 1954, pp. 65-87, and J.A. Cosculluela, Cuatros Anos en la cienaga Zapata
(Havana: E.C.A.G., 1965), pp. 167-169.
59 See cited works of Knight, Wright and Pichardo Moya.
60 Importantly, some of the later Amerindian immigrants to Cuba included Taino
relatives from Santo Domingo. See, for example, Culin, "The Indians of Cuba." On the
subject of Amerindian movements and migrations to Cuba, see the overviews by John
Worth, "A History of Southeastern Indians in Cuba, 1513-1823," unpublished paper
presented at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, St. Louis Missouri, October
2004, and Jason M. Yaremko, "Indians and Emperors: Imperial Geopolitics and
Amerindian Migrations from North America to Cuba," unpublished paper presented at
the 2005 annual meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory, "Centering Lives in
Border Spaces," Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2005. For evidence suggesting the
indigenous membership of pueblos indios or Indian towns in the 18 th century, see
Hortensia Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani (Havana, 1966). Also see "Los Indios del
pueblo de Giguani," 1777-1806, Santo Domingo, legajos 1617-1622, Archivo General de
Indias (AGI), Seville, Spain.
61 Sherry Johnson, The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba (Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2001), pp. 20-21; Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani, pp. 12-
62 In the case of Guanabacoa, this is suggested in Worth, "A History of Southeastern
Indians in Cuba, 1513-1823."
63 Culin, "The Indians of Cuba," pp. 195-197.
64 "Rei a Almirante, Juezes, Oficiales," Valbuena, October 19, 1514, in Santo Domingo
en los manuscritos de Juan Bautista Muhoz, Roberto Marte, ed. (Santo Domingo:
Ediciones Fundacion Garcia Arevalo, 1981), pp. 122-124. The eastern region is also
where most Taino cacicazgos were concentrated.
65 Wright, p. 140.
66 Wright, pp. 144-145.
67 Cited in Wright, p. 142.
68 Cited in Wright, pp. 143-144.
69 Cited in Wright, p. 146.
70 "Manuel de Rojas, gobernador de Cuba ...libertad de Indios," 1533, AGI, Patronato,
leg. 177, N.l, R.15; "Manuel de Rojas, gobernador Cuba: autogobierno de los indios,"
1534, AGI, Patronato, leg. 177, N.l, R.17.
71 Cited in Wright, pp. 148-157. See also the following legajos: "Capacidad de los Indios
para autogobernarse: Cuba," 1531, AGI, Patronato, legajo 177, N.l, R.12; "Gobernador y
repartidor de Indios en Cuba: Manuel de Rojas," 1532, AGI, Patronato, leg. 177, N.l,
R.13; "Manuel de Rojas, gobernador de Cuba ...libertad de Indios," 1533, AGI,
Patronato, leg. 177, N.l, R.15; "Manuel de Rojas, gobernador Cuba: autogobierno de los
indios," 1534, AGI, Patronato, leg. 177, N.l, R.17.
72 Knight, p. 42.
73 Knight, pp. 42-43.
74 Cited in Knight, pp. 42-43. Cuba's Spanish male population was slightly more than
Puerto Rico, less than Hispaniola; population density was lowest of the three.
75 Juan del Castillo, Obispo de Cuba: visita pastoral, 1570, Patronato, legajo 177, N. 1, R.
24, AGI. Also cited in Knight.
76 Juan del Castillo, Obispo de Cuba: visita pastoral, 1570, Patronato, legajo 177, N. 1,
R. 24, AGI
77 "Carta a S. magestad del Gobernador D. Pedro de Valdes," 1604, reproduced in
Documentos para la historia de Cuba: epoca colonial, Vol. 1, Hortensia Pichardo, ed.
(Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1971), p. 144.
78 Hortensia Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani (Havana, 1966), pp. 11-14. Alternate
spellings in colonial records include Giguani and Xiguanf.
79 Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani, pp. 6-12.
80 Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani, pp. 12-17.
81 Knight, pp. 44-49.
82 Knight, pp. 44-49; Maria Elena Diaz, The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El
Cobre, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000, p. 243.
83 See, for example, the correspondence and testimonies in "Los Indios del pueblo de
Giguani," 1777-1806, Santo Domingo, legajos 1617 and 1618, AGI. This is also
suggested in some of the recent work of John E. Worth; see, for example, Worth, "A
History of Southeastern Indians in Cuba, 1513-1823," p. 9.
84 Cited in Knight, p. 45.
85 Allan Kuethe, Cuba, 1735-1815: Crown, Military and Society (Knoxville, 1986). See
also Rafael Fermoselle, J. Franco, and Guiteras also.
86 Kuethe, Cuba, 1735-1815: Crown, Military and Society, pp. 10-20.
87 Cited in Kuethe, p. 41; source fn37, p. 38.
88 Wright (1916), pp. 347-355.
89 Maria Elena Diaz, The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre, p.91. See
also Marrero papers. As Diaz also notes, the stories of longstanding Indian communities
like Jiguani still have yet to be told.
90 Diaz, pp. 150, 242-243, 378n8. There is some discrepancy between the brief
references of Kuethe and Diaz. More research is needed to clarify whether there was a
coexistence of official and unofficial (ie., "white") Indian militia companies, or Indian
sentinels and Indian ("white") companies, or a combination with differing functions.
9 1 See, for example, "Testimonio del expediente promo vido por los indios naturals del
Pueblode Xiguani sobre vejaciones y usurpacion que padecen en sus personas y
terrenos," October 14, 1785, Santo Domingo, leg. 1618, r. 1, n. 1.
92 Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani, pp. 12-17.
93 See "Indios del pueblo de Jiguani," 1793, AGI, Santo Domingo, legajos 1617-1622.
Also in Diaz, chapter 11, fn49, p. 300.
94 "Indios del pueblo de Jiguani," 1793, AGI, Santo Domingo, legajos 1617-1622; legajo
1617 also cited in Diaz, p. 408n49. See also Marrero, vol. VI, pp. 149-150, 168.
96 Cited in Pichardo, Los origenes de Jiguani, pp. 24-28.
97 See, for example, the testimony of Jose Almenares Argiiello cited in Culin, "The
Indians of Cuba," pp. 191-192.
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Article submitted: 18 August 2006
Reviews completed: 23 September 2006
Revised version submitted and accepted: 18 December 2006
Published: 20 December 2006
Jason M. Yaremko
Department of History,
Coordinator, History Programme,
Bachelor of Education Access Programme (WEC-ICC),
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave.
R3B 2E9 Canada
(204)790-7219 (204)790-7219 (204)790-7219
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Please cite this article as follows:
Yaremko, Jason M.. (2006). "Gente bdrbara": Indigenous Rebellion, Resistance and
Persistence in Colonial Cuba, c. 1500-1800. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean
Amerindian History and Anthropology [On-line Journal]. Available at:
http://kacikeiournal.wordpress.com/contents/Yaremko.html [Date of access: Day, Month,
Year]. [61 par.]